We do go on but this was almost paradise. We shared an immaculate loo with Tracey from Brisbane travelling by herself and just had her 50th birthday. OMG – the floor was spotless, there was TOILET PAPER and SOAP – we must be dreaming. There was an attendant who rushed round making sure that the loos stayed clean. There was a red carpet, changed if it looked dirty. But, there was a price to pay. We arrived at the border around 2200 or so. The obligatory banging and self important Immigration checkers – taking passports and eventually returning them. At last we have crossed the border – we’r e on our way. WRONG. Chinese rail run on NARROW gauge lines and Mongolian on standard gauge or WIDE gauge. Obviously we change trains. Wrong again. There are a series of spine jolting crashes as each carriage is uncoupled. The engine, restaurant and baggage car then returns to the Chinese side. Get this – every carriage is then hoisted up into the air on massive car jacks and the undercarriages are rolled away (one man pushing) and the new Mongolian ones rolled under. They can do six carriages at a time but tonight, they are only doing four.
After 2 hours the bone jarring bangs were repeated as the carriages were hooked up to the new engine and restaurant cars. At 01:30 we chugged away. Breakfast time in the new Mongolian Restaurant car. Our attendants were cooking up the meals for Mongolian travellers and cabin staff – soup with lamb, veggies, even potatoes and the smell. Delectable even if you hadn’t eaten for hours. We managed to scrounge a taste. Heaven but then we were sent off to the dining car for Europeans. Attendant appears – we ask for “Mongolian breakfast” Guess what we got. Two fried eggs and a small gherkin. With sweet plain-pastry bred? AUS$10 each. Never mind, we must support the local tourism!
Ulan Bataar is quite high so the train has to do a fair bit of climbing. We had two engines and were often around the 100 kph mark. The scenery is bleak. (23/03/2013) No greenery. Neither leaf nor blade of grass. Nothing. Having said that, I found the journey timeless and fascinating if bitterly cold looking. The lightly snow drifted coverings on the mountains, the icy ponds and lakes, with the sun shining on them – magnificent. Suddenly gers or yurts (little, round, igloo like homes – the outsides looking like padded parka jackets) appear with other poor dwelling. Then power stations and all the approaches to a big city.
Cold, clean, busy, bustling and interestingly no motorbikes or bicycles – perhaps -20 is a deterrent. Ice, snow, broken pavements contrasting with chic, well dressed women. Obviously lots of money around.
Ramada Room1012. Adequate, tenth floor. Good city views. English speaking very helpful staff. Breakfast 8/10 and main meals a bit limited, pricey but tasty.
Bit off yesterday – both had bad colds and congestion from all the earlier polluted cities but now clearing up. Yesterday we walked into many really interesting dress shops – did I say that? – the styles were really different. Yak jumper – AUS$15, cashmere jumper AUS$600. In the same small little shop that looked liked a sleazy entrance to a tattoo parlour. So refreshing to be walking in cool crisp air (thanks Darryl for all the skiing thermal underwear). We went out last night for the Mongolian BBQ. No comparison to the one in Oxford Street. They even had their own gers. Whilst we were there a birthday cake came out complete with large fizzing and spurting Roman candle and – get this, the whole family group around it were Mongolians and they all sang Happy Birthday – in ENGLISH. Good fun.
UB grey and white cars and houses – few taxis but anyone can be a taxi. People hitch hike – car stops – pay the man! Not as many 4wds as expected but many Priuses. Very dry cold and dusty city. On this journey – would happily pass and spend longer in Beijing